Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated thousands of homes, MDS revisits some of the people and places where volunteers helped to rebuild.
Grand Bayou villagers slowly regrow old way of life.
Ruby Ancar picks up a teddy bear mailed to her by a Mennonite child a few months after Hurricane Katrina devastated Grand Bayou, located in the southernmost region of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana.
“She was only four years old then,” said Ancar, who lives in a home repaired by Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers. One of those volunteers was the girl’s father. When he returned home after spending a week helping to rebuild homes on the bayou, he told his daughter about the remote village that is home to indigenous people who have lived here for more than a thousand years.
“I still have this bear, and I still have the little notes that her Sunday School class sent to me,” said Ancar. “I like to think of the little hands that wrote those notes.”
She cradles the bear in her arms and pauses: “Strange to think that girl must be 14 years old now.”
For people who can trace their roots in the Delta region back 5,000 years, what is the passing of a decade? The remote village, accessible only by water, is tied to the Chawasha Tribe, the Atakapa-Ishak Tribe, and many others. They have lived on the Plaquemines peninsula for 1,500 years, and on Grand Bayou for 300 years.
After Katrina, Ancar’s house was the first repaired by MDS, and every day for the next four years, she ferried MDS volunteers and supplies back and forth as they began the painstaking process of rebuilding a community it seemed everyone else had forgotten.
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Why come back to New Orleans?
As he walks around the Hayne Building in New Orleans, Jerry Klassen recalls a time when the place teemed with volunteers. They stayed in the rooms and ate their breakfast in the kitchen before they went off to help repair and rebuild homes in the city. For seven years after Hurricane Katrina, the elevated two-story structure in northeastern New Orleans near Lake Pontchartrain housed thousands of volunteers.
Klassen, a Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) disaster response coordinator, helped select the building as one of three locations in New Orleans in which volunteers could live while they worked. They began by renovating the Hayne Building itself.
As recovery wrapped up, MDS sold the building to Turning the World Around (TWUD) Ministries. Now the building teems with different activities: Bible studies, women’s luncheons and worship services.
“When I come up here and see this, it’s freeing for me to see that God has not forgotten this place. He lent it to us for awhile and he has put you as stewards,” said Klassen, speaking to Joan Crockett, who helps lead TWUD Ministries, a local New Orleans effort that often focuses on getting people off the streets and into a life of faith.
Klassen and Crockett have markedly different denominations and approaches to ministry — but standing together in the Hayne Building they quickly acknowledge each other’s work in a city that simply needed help from its neighbors after a crushing disaster.
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In Bayou La Batre, ministry grows out of Katrina.
MDS featured on NBC Nightly News! MDS was featured on the NBC Nightly News on March 29, 2011. To see the story that features our Diamond, La. project, click on the link below:
MDS on the News